EVP: Electronic Voice Phenomena. These mysterious recordings are believed by some to represent the voices of the dead. The earliest examples of EVP were recorded by Attila von Szalay in 1956, and there have been thousands since.
This month’s soundpack is a collection of 39 creepy EVP phrases for you to use in your modern horror game. Are they the voices of departed colleagues? Dire warnings from the other side? Angry spirits lashing out against intruders to their haunted home? Could they be demons, or some eldritch horror attempting to communicate from beyond some dimensional veil? Or is it a hoax, a fraudulent attempt to drive off competing real estate investors? It is left to you, the Game Master, to determine.
• “Cast into Hell…”
• “Find the Key…”
• “Follow the Rules…”
• “Help me…”
• “Let me out…”
• “Prepare for Death…”
• “There are Many…”
• “This is my House…”
• “Unclean Spirit…”
And 29 more.
1) Use your sounds to keep the game moving forward. I know it’s role playing, and the players love to make a fancy plan every time, but really, do they think that the pack of skeletons that just charged into the cave are gonna wait while the party huddles up and draws a play in the dirt? No, and you shouldn’t either! Playing the skeleton screech to signal that the fight is on can keep the action moving. Side note: our 5-minute “Self-Destruct Sequence” track from the Strange Places disc was conceived specifically for this purpose. They say they’re gonna blow up the ship on a 5-minute timer, give ‘em exactly 5 minutes to figure out their escape.
2) Don’t be afraid to replay your sounds. Gaming tables are noisy places, and some of the more subtle things can be missed. It’s not unreasonable to replay a sound (particularly the shorter ones) a time or two. On the other hand, if your party is just too noisy to hear that group of Deep Ones waddling up behind them…too bad for them.
3) Deception is key. Throughout the game, randomly take each player aside and let them listen to a sound in the headphones. These sounds can have little or nothing to do with the story (the wind blowing, or a coyote howling in the distance). This way they can grow accustomed to the headphones, but they will think that the soundfiles are just going to be a small part of the game. Then you can hit one of the players with the ghostly message or dream sequence and blow their minds – kinda like it would do in real life!
4) Volume is your friend. Beasties have indoor voices too, so don’t be afraid to play the quiet parts quiet and the loud parts loud.
5) Have fun with it. Remember, this is your story. You’re the one who spent the last few months crafting it. The soundfiles are just another tool to help you tell it. Not every sound will work exactly like you imagined it would. (in this regard they’re just like any other prop, supplement, old yellowed photo, ancient document…) All you can do is enjoy the sounds that worked well, and learn from the ones that don’t for next time.
For over 200 sounds to use in your RPG, go to toxicbag.com.
We’ve added a new feature over at toxicbag.com. Now you can listen to short samples of all sounds on the Game Masters Collection, so you know what you’re getting before you buy a CD or download a file. All of the sounds from The Twentieth Century, Fantasy and Monsters are up, and we’ll have Strange Places and Battles sounds up soon.
Here’s what it looks like:
If you mouse over the little Toxic Bag logos at the bottom of the waveform, a comment box will pop up telling you which sound you’re listening to.
1) Be organized. This is first because it addresses the number one concern we hear from GMs when the subject of sound comes up. Go through your story beforehand, pick the sounds you want and know where/when they should come up. Make a playlist on iTunes or the Game Masters app with the sounds, in approximate order, and have your playback device close to hand so you’re not fumbling around for a sound when the moment arrives.
2) Hide the speakers. Having a sound that comes from another room, or just behind the players, can be very effective and surprising. For one game, I prepared a special soundfile with 15 minutes of silence in front, so I was able to walk across the room, sneakily hit “play,” and sit back down – and not only did the players not really take notice of what I was doing, they’d forgotten all about it by time the sound actually played.
3) Use headphones. Playing a sound for just one player is the equivalent of taking a player aside to give him proprietary information or a secret agenda. How will a character react if he’s the only one who can hear the monster?
4) Moderation. You can’t have a sound ready for every place the players go, or every thing they run into. Instead, have one or two encounters set up before hand. make them the show stoppers of the adventure. Choose the final showdown with the beastie or the first time the party meets the evil bandit king in his palace or when they find the magical sword of awesomeness. Any of these can be set piece encounters that you can really build up with sound to expand and heighten the experience.
5) Let the players know beforehand that sound is going to be a part of the game. That way, when they hear the snarling beastie noise coming from your hidden speaker (see number 2 above) they will react accordingly and not just say, “huh, cool sound.”
For over 200 sounds to use in your RPG, go to toxicbag.com.
We try to keep the sales-y language to a minimum around here, but I’d like to announce that we’re dropping the prices of our Game Masters Collection and Battles CDs by 40%. If you buy from the Toxic Bag online store, individual Game Masters CDs (The Twentieth Century, Monsters, Fantasy and Strange Places) and the Battles CD are now $9.00, and the 4-disc Game Masters Collection is now $30.
In case you’re not familiar with the Game Masters and Battles discs:
The Game Masters Collection is a collection of unique sound effects, suited for all genre RPG and LARP games, effects for a small theatrical production, or a creepy Halloween party. These sound effects are available on four compact discs:
All four Game Masters CDs are also available (in a handsome cardboard slipcase) as the Complete Collection.
This price drop doesn’t apply to physical Toxic Bag products on Amazon.com, or to the downloadable versions of the products.
In the mid-90s, Blood and I were hired by a small production company to work on a music video for a thrash-metal band. The band was signed to a medium-sized label and enjoyed some success touring Europe and Japan. We were supposed to provide audio support for the shoot, meaning we would set up a small PA system and play back the band’s CD, and they would mime and lip-sync the song. Our friend Chris was hired to direct. Chris had gotten got the gig because he knew who Lucio Fulci was. The band were big Zombie fans, and that was the ‘look’ that they wanted their video to have.
Being an occult-themed thrash metal act, the band wanted to shoot their video in a cemetery. Specifically, they wanted to shoot in the Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery near Midlothian, Illinois. This cemetery is supposedly very haunted, and is featured in many of the “Haunted Chicago”-type books you find in the local interest section at Border’s.
Our line producer described it as “an active cemetery.” What does that mean, I asked—they’re still burying people there?
“No, the last burial was around 1989. ‘Active’ means there are still people buried there.”
So, “active cemetery” as opposed to “field,” I guess.
Tucked back in a forest preserve, Bachelor’s Grove has become a popular destination for vandals, and authorities have reported finding evidence of black-magic rituals taking place there. There are also reports of ghosts, strange lights, and a phantom farmhouse that appears and disappears.
On the day of the shoot, I knew none of this stuff. For all I knew we were headed out to shoot in one of those modern, manicured, golf-course-looking cemeteries you see in funeral scenes in movies like Watchmen with “Sounds of Silence” playing in the background. We had asked if the producers had secured permission to shoot at the location. We were assured that all the necessary permits had been taken care of.
That wasn’t entirely true. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our first stop of the day was at the band’s rehearsal space, a converted warehouse on Chicago’s west side. This building was like most dedicated band rehearsal facilities in the 1990s, each floor divided into 10×10 rooms with thin walls and lots of black paint, inhabited by thirty or so bands playing as loud as they could to drown out the band in the next space. The walls of this band’s space were plastered with posters of metal bands and photos from hardcore porn magazines. The drumset was perched atop an eight-foot wooden riser, leaving almost no space between the cymbals and the ceiling. The room smelled vaguely of stale beer, cigarettes and pot. The band members were already in full video shoot regalia—leather, chains, studded wristbands. A short guy with a shaved head introduced himself as “Jeff Deth” and said he was going to be doing lights. We helped the band load their gear into their van and headed out to the location.
Bachelor’s Grove is a monumentally creepy place. The headstones have been tipped over and dragged around by vandals for forty years, the grass and weeds are chaotically overgrown. It’s easy to understand why a band whose music is occult-related would want to use it as a setting for a video. It’d be a great location for a horror film too.
Not that I’m suggesting anyone try to shoot one there.
Because it’s hidden back inside a forest preserve, there’s no accessible road to the cemetery. So we had to park out by the main road and carry the gear in, probably a half-mile to the cemetery. Hiking in, Jeff Deth told us about his dream project: to make a scat porn movie starring real supermodels. He made us swear to not steal the idea. We agreed, wondering what galaxy this guy inhabited wherein someone might rip off that particular setup. It’s really altogether too disgusting and degrading to go into further detail, so his concept remains safe (though I’ve found a more detailed description on someone else’s blog; apparently we’re not the only people to whom Jeff pitched his film).
Blood and I had a couple of speakers, a mixer, an amp and a small generator to power it all. We had also been asked to bring any cool props we might have lying around…and by “cool props” the band meant “guns.” So, I had three plastic replica guns in my duffel bag as well. Specifically I had a black water pistol that looked like a Colt 1911 .45 caliber pistol, a cap gun that resembled a Walther PPK, and something that looked vaguely like a Scorpion submachine gun. Additionally, Blood was also going to do makeup and effects. He had a bunch of Zombie green makeup, latex scars and bullet holes, fake blood and even a fake arm with him. Who he was going to apply this makeup to was never very clearly defined by the band. It’s possible they originally planned for groupies to be there to be the Zombs, but on shoot day there was nobody.
The band set up their gear amidst the scattered headstones and once we got the PA system sorted out, the director called for us to do a take. The music blared, the band gyrated, banged their heads and otherwise commenced looking badass…and out of the corner of my eye I saw two men in brown uniforms standing at the edge of the cemetery looking at us.
I got Chris’ attention, and he cut the take. The police approached us. Blood indicated that the director was the guy to talk to, and we hung back. Blood told me later his first thought was, please guys, tell me you left all that pot at the rehearsal space.
“What’re you guys doing?”
“We’re filming a music video.”
“You know you’re not allowed to be back here. This place is not open to the public.”
“The band told me they’d gotten permission to shoot here.”
Waitaminit, I thought—the BAND? And the producer didn’t double check? Oh geez.
Needless to say, no one was able to produce a permit or any other sort of documentation proving that we had permission.
“Come on, fellas. No one’s gonna give you permission to shoot in a cemetery. Pack up all this stuff and get going.”
So we started packing up the gear. At one point, I was wrapping cables with my duffel bag open next to me. One cop looked down and saw the prop firearms.
“Hey, are those real guns?”
He was looking at what appeared to be two handguns and a submachine gun, sitting in my bag atop a bunch of audio cables. I’m pretty sure his hand was on his own firearm. Not looking up, and especially not making a move toward the bag I said slowly, “No, sir, those are fakes. Feel free to take a look at them.” He didn’t. Though a few minutes later as I was farther away packing the generator I saw that Chris, or maybe Jeff Deth, had taken the guns out to show them to the cop. Okay, maybe he was just curious, but I still stand by my decision to not risk getting shot by a police officer for grabbing a fake gun while being kicked out of a graveyard for inadvertently trespassing. I’m sure that’d at least earn me 100 years in purgatory just for being stupid.
Under the no-doubt-bemused but nonetheless stern glare of the police we hoofed all the gear back out the half-mile to the vans. The band assured Chris they’d get in touch when they’d actually gotten another location lined up—properly this time. None of us ever heard from them again. And I don’t think Jeff Deth ever made his movie.
Images of Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery are from graveyards.com and are linked courtesy of Matt Hucke. Thank you, Matt!